Flexibility, Structure, and Engagement: An Asynchronous Online Teaching Framework
8 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2020 Last revised: 27 Jan 2021
Date Written: July 15, 2020
Asynchronous teaching approaches have long been used to expand educational access to students with diverse needs, and thus, they are well suited to teaching under the conditions of uncertainty that characterize a time of pandemic. While asynchronous approaches are sometimes criticized for being less interactive than synchronous or face-to-face classes, I argue that these limitations can be overcome by providing structure and engagement opportunities for students while also maximizing the flexibility that is the major benefit of asynchronicity. In this essay, I present a six-part framework for designing asynchronous online classes, drawing on examples from my undergraduate interdisciplinary social science courses on contemporary Japan and Asia. First, instructors can maximize flexibility by “thinking small,” modularizing lectures into focused segments and providing brief assignments that ask students to reflect upon, apply, and check comprehension of course material. Second, combining regularly scheduled communication with flexible engagement opportunities helps to create a supportive learning environment. Third, the asynchronous approach is particularly well suited to writing-focused assignments, which can facilitate greater quantity and quality of interaction than face-to-face classes when structured effectively. Fourth, incorporating multi-dimensional materials from a variety of sources, viewpoints, and disciplines helps to build empathy, broaden perspectives, and encourage critical inquiry. Fifth, instructors can decentralize student engagement by incorporating small group assignments to help create community and build rapport. Sixth, online technologies should be used to their maximum benefit to engage students and unleash their creativity in new ways that further promote active learning. This framework was designed with undergraduate students in mind, but it can be adapted to high school and middle school levels. If synchronous online or face-to-face instruction is also important, elements of this framework can be fused with a “flipped” classroom model, where students engage with online materials outside of class and meet for a short period of time for live discussion or other activities.
Keywords: asynchronous learning, asynchronous teaching, online teaching, teaching pedagogy
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